A simple 3-step process that earned me trips to Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco, and Toronto for free!
I found a simple credit card points strategy that has earned me free travel to Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco, and Toronto since 2021.
The complexities around credit card systems and strategies always intimidated me. That’s why, I always preferred a simple cash-back card.
A few times, I did try understanding the points system, only to go down different rabbit holes and come out of them more intimidated and confused than before.
That is until, almost innocently, I stumbled across this one strategy that just made sense.
In this blog post, I will share the strategy with you, so that you can reap the same benefits!
If you know how to implement this simple strategy into your lives, you can get huge savings, no matter where you are traveling.
There are many strategies, tips, and systems out there that can give you a bigger bang for your buck. However, the one I will discuss in this blog post emphasizes simplicity.
Also, unlike many other credit card strategies, this won’t encourage you to go beyond your regular spending habits. If you need to spend more to get these free travel, what’s the point??!
That being said, let’s get into the details.
For starters, I will divide the blog post into three sections:
- Earning credit card points
- Transferring points
- Buy Tickets with Points
- Personal examples (with real numbers!)
Earning Credit Card Points
There are tons of credit cards you can use to earn points.
From Chase, American Express, and Citi, to less popular ones like Wells Fargo and Bilt, your options are endless.
I wanted to keep things simple, so I chose one issuer only — American Express.
If you want to keep everything simple, I will encourage you to do the same.
No matter which bank you use, the idea is the same, you spend money and earn points.
It’s also important to remember, you don’t need credit cards with annual fees to get points. Sure, cards with annual fees can help you get points faster, but it’s not a necessity.
For the longest time, I was earning points in AMEX cards that had no annual fees.
So, how do I earn credit card points?
It’s simple. I have a 3 American Express (AMEX) credit card set up:
- AMEX Everyday Card (Annual Fee → $0)
- AMEX Gold Card (Annual Fee → $250)
- AMEX Blue Business Plus (Annual Fee → $0)
As you can see, two of the three cards I primarily use have no annual fee.
I put most of my regular spending on these cards, and automatically earn points, without any intervention whatsoever.
Let’s look at some numbers.
Imagine, I spend $2,000 every month and allocate the spending between different cards as follows:
- $500 on AMEX Everyday Card
- $500 on Blue Business Plus Card
- $1000 on AMEX Gold.
At a minimum, you will earn 1 point for $1 spent. Some cards will give you multipliers to increase the points you get for every dollar spent.
Let’s use the following multipliers for our example:
- AMEX Everyday Card — $1= 1 point
- AMEX Blue Business Plus Card — $1 = 2 points
- AMEX Gold Card — $1 = 6 points
That means, if I use the three cards every month similar to what I mentioned above, I will earn 7,500 points monthly, and 90,000 points yearly.
To maximize your points, you can use your cards strategically. Let’s say, in my case, for food and groceries, I use AMEX Gold which gives me a 3x multiplier, and for the remaining, I use Blue Business Plus, which gives me a 2x multiplier.
Let’s not get into the multipliers though, to keep things simple.
So, going by these fake numbers, every year you will accumulate 90,000 points, without doing anything extra or spending more than you have to.
Now that I have 90,000 points in my account, what do I do with them?
First, it’s important to understand what’s the “currency” of these points.
For American Express, you get Membership Rewards (MR) points.
For Chase, you get Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
The point is, you get points native to whatever bank your credit card is from.
In my case, I use American Express cards, so all my points from all the different cards, end up going to the same American Express account. It’s one portal where you see all your points, and you can do whatever you want with them.
With my MR points, I can do a couple of things:
- Pay your credit card balance
- Shop from the AMEX portal
- Pay with points at checkout of Amazon, BestBuy, etc
- Spend points to get gift cards
- Book flights and hotels from the American Express travel portal
- Transfer MR points to airline and hotel partners
Without going into too much detail, all but one redemption here will give you the best bang for your buck.
It’s the last one: Transfer MR points to airline and hotel partners.
Does transferring points sound intimidating to you? It’s okay if it does. For the longest time, I found it intimidating too.
However, the transfer process is stupidly simple.
Before I talk about the transfer process though, let’s discuss where exactly are we transferring our points to?!
American Express, just like Chase and Citi, has many airline and travel partners. Let’s look at a few examples. I will focus on American Express because I am most familiar with it, but the same applies to most credit card issuers.
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- Air France KLM
- ANA Mileage Club
- Cathay Pacific
So, when we say we are “transferring points”, what we mean is that we are transferring our MR points from American Express to these partners’ equivalent currency.
For instance, I can transfer 10,000 MR points to 10,000 Virgin Atlantic points.
Different partners have different currency rates, but you don’t have to worry about that. You just pick one airline or hotel partner, and transfer your points to them.
The two partners I use the most are — Aeroplan (Air Canada) and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
Both these partners have a very wide coverage within North America and even Europe and Asia in some cases. So, you can’t go wrong with transferring your points from American Express to these two airlines.
Now, how do you transfer the points?
It’s easy. Just create your accounts with Aeroplan and/or Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. It’s as simple as signing up for an account on any other website.
Once you are done with the sign-up process, you will get a Membership ID that you want to note down.
That’s all you need. Now, whenever you want to transfer points from American Express to one of these partners, just use the account number and the points will appear on your relevant external partner account in a matter of hours.
Buy Tickets with Points
If you are still with me, that’s awesome, you are almost there!
Now that you have your MR points (or the equivalent with Chase, Citi, etc) transferred to the partner, you can directly book your tickets with these partners.
Instead of using actual currency to cover the cost of these tickets, you can just use the points you transferred.
In some cases, you will have to pay a small fee to cover taxes, but most of the ticket fare will be covered by your points.
Personal Examples (with real numbers!)
Let’s tie everything together by looking at a few example flights that I booked with points in the last 3 years.
San Francisco → Chicago
Chicago → Atlanta
San Francisco → Dallas
Dallas → Toronto
I will quickly check the one-way ticket prices for these tickets on Expedia and Kayak.
Using September 12, 2023, as my departure date, this is what I get:
San Francisco → Chicago = USD$163
Chicago → Atlanta = USD$79
San Francisco → Dallas = USD$125
Dallas → Toronto = USD$311
That’s a total of USD$678.
Now, let’s see how many points would we need to cover this.
I will get the prices from a combination of Aeroplan (Air Canada) and Virgin Atlantic transfer partners for the same September 12, 2023, date. Remember, these are the partners we transferred our AMEX MR points.
San Francisco → Chicago = 22K Virgin Atlantic Points
Chicago → Atlanta = 8K Virgin Atlantic Points
San Francisco → Dallas = 17K Virgin Atlantic Points
Dallas → Toronto = 16K Virgin Atlantic Points
Let’s tally it all up 🥁
That’s a total of 63,000 Virgin Atlantic Points.
If you remember the math we did in the earlier section on “earning credit card points”, we were accumulating ~90,000MR points annually by just spending our American Express credit cards on things we would have spent money on anyway.
That means you could do all these traveling essentially for free!
There’s a lot more that goes into a credit card setup to maximize the rewards you can get.
I strategically apply for different credit card sign-up bonuses, use appropriate cards for different categories I spend on, and even earn points on rent!
I plan on writing more about both of these and more. If you are interested to hear about these things, please leave some feedback below.
If you are not interested in credit card points at all and don’t want to invest in learning more about them, I would suggest sticking with a 2% cash-back card, such as the Citi Double Cash Card. Use the money you earn from cash-back on travel and that can be your version of free travel!
In this blog post, however, I wanted to keep things simple and just give you an idea of how to use your credit card points for travel, using some of my trips from the last couple of years as examples.
I hope it helped.
Want more insights like this?
You will get early access to all my Medium work and exclusive access to tons of things I don’t post on Medium!
If you enjoy my writing on this platform, join Medium so you can get unlimited access to valuable and beautiful writings from great writers.